There are many project managers who feel that documentation is an arduous task. It takes up considerable time and effort—and they might feel that there are many other pressing tasks that require more immediate focus, and documentation can easily be relegated to the back burner!
However, nothing can be further from the truth. Proper documentation ensures that project expectations are met, deliverables are on track, and tasks can be easily traced. In fact, the value of project documentation is felt most when there is a lack of it, as more often than not the project goes astray when documentation processes are not given the attention they deserve.
In this blog, you’ll find out why project documentation is important, what are the benefits, and how to get it right.
Project documentation involves recording all the key details at every important stage of the project, and creating the documents that are required to execute, monitor and control it successfully.
Project documentation can range from business proposal documents, business cases, time charts, project implementation plans, status reports and financial trackers, among many others.
Every organization will have its own ways of working and set of documentation templates that are followed, which have worked for them in the past. Small companies might be able to manage their initiatives with minimal paperwork, but larger projects that span teams and geographies might require complex documentation to stay on track.
A project proposal is often the first document that is created for a project. It is a document that makes the case for going ahead with the project and outlines all the reasons why the project is worth pursuing. The core value proposition is laid out in the form of a business case which can be part of the project proposal.
A project proposal offers a high-level overview of the project, which is then fleshed out in the form of a Project Plan. This lays out the roadmap and defines project milestones and timeframes. Usually, the Project Plan is a live document that evolves over the course of the project, with all the new goals and changes added to it along the way.
It’s important that everyone who is working on the project must be updated on the progress. This is done through a shared Status Report and helps to keep the team and external stakeholders in the know as to what is happening. The work done so far is captured, and a note is made of the next steps ahead.
Smooth and transparent communication is of paramount importance to keep everyone on the same page. A well-laid out communication plan makes sure that all important information is shared and is always available for reference.
At the end of the project, the team sits together to determine what went well and what could, perhaps, have been done a bit better. The Retrospective document lists out all the lessons learned and can be used by other teams, so that they can learn from your mistakes.
Project documentation offers immense value across all the different stages of a project. Right from the initiation phase, through the execution phase and the completion phase, various kinds of documents can be created to plan, manage quality, budgets and time schedules and control scope, risk and so on.
Most of us find that writing something down helps to pin our thoughts and ideas, and this is the primary reason behind creating a tangible document. A project document is no different. Some of the ways in which it adds value to the project are:
Working on templates is the easiest way to get started with your documentation. PMI offers thousands of free templates, as well as premium templates that are available to PMI members only, at this link. These templates are tested by expert project management practitioners and will save you considerable time and effort.
Before you start on developing the documentation for the project, first understand from stakeholders what is the purpose behind the project. Is it to develop a new product or service, or to enhance something that already exists? What type of compliances must be in place, and are there any existing templates you can follow?
Some questions to help you get started:
Once you have a basic idea about the project, make a list of the documents that you must create. If there are existing templates that your organization uses, get access to them. If not, do some research and find out which are the most useful online templates and trackers that you can use. Try a free subscription, and if you find it meets your needs then ask for a paid subscription to the tool. It will save you time and effort in the long run, so the price of the subscription will be repaid many times over,through the course of the project.
Set the right processes in place from the get-go, and do not leave all the documentation for a particular day of the week. You might tend to forget to note down something of key importance. Communication often happens across multiple mediums, like chat, emails, even WhatsApp or shared online folders. From the start, insist that all important details are shared in one place, so that it becomes easy to cull the most important points and note them down in a relevant document or tracker.
Whatever may be the document tool you use, it should allow for easy searching, both by name and date. The user interface should be very easy to use, even by a newbie, and should be simple to navigate.
Every document does not need to get into the details. Keep it crisp and concise, without leaving out anything of critical importance. Just-in-time documentation is often followed in Agile, where a document contains only enough detail to get the task off the ground.
Documents are of little use unless they are shared. Maintain your documents in a live, evolving format where all changes are documented, and real-time progress is easily tracked.
There are many online tools and trackers that are proven to add immense value to project documentation. Google Docs, Microsoft SharePoint, Asana, Proofhub, Trello and Nuclino are some commonly used tools that streamline and simplify project documentation processes. Depending on how mature your project team is, you can pick a tool that offers the most appropriate solutions to share knowledge and track progress.
Pick the right tool based on these parameters:
While documentation might seem very tedious, improper or inadequate documentation in a project could be one of the foremost reasons for project delays. In extreme cases it could even be a contributor to the failure of the project. As a good project manager, you can increase the efficiency of your project and improve chances of project success by maintaining the right amount of clear, well-articulated documentation at the most important stages through the lifecycle of the project.
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